1 month, 3 weeks ago
Since this verse comes up frequently in discussions of gun control, let’s destroy this argument once and for all. First, let us examine the full context of the verse by including the following two verses. “He said to them, ‘But now, let him who has a purse take it, and likewise a bag. And let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one. For I tell you that this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with transgressors’; for what is written about me has its fulfillment.’ And they said, ‘Look, Lord, here are two swords.’ And he said to them, ‘It is enough.’
The New Oxford Annotated Bible has this to say about the passage. “An example of Jesus’ fondness for striking metaphors, but the disciples take it literally. The sword apparently meant to Jesus a preparation to live by one’s own resources against hostility. The natural meaning of verse 38 is that the disciples supposed he spoke of an actual sword, only to learn that two swords were sufficient for the whole enterprise, that is, were not to be used at all.”
Anyone who has read the Gospels knows that Jesus was fond of metaphors. Matthew 23:24 – “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” Or Mark 10:25 – “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Clearly, Jesus had no intention of inflicting either of these painful actions upon any camels. So, presuming that everything Jesus said was to be taken literally is groundless.
Jesus frequently used physical objects (seeds, lamps, vineyards, coins, lost sheep, etc.) to teach universal truths, and the same is true of the two swords. This interpretation is supported by Matthew 10:34: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword,” (another verse often misquoted by gun advocates). In proper context, Jesus did not mean a physical sword that cuts up and bloodies the family, but a spiritual and moral one that may divide families nonphysically.
Biblical scholar Bart Ehrman labels a literal interpretation of Luke 22:36 as an absurd contradiction. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus teaches peace.
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Therefore, the words of Jesus in Luke 22:36 are not to be understood literally, that he would have his disciples furnish themselves with swords. His meaning is that, wherever they went and a door was opened for the preaching of the Gospel, they would have many adversaries. They would be met with violence, followed by rage and persecution. The phrase expresses the danger they will be exposed to.
Obviously the author is a believer in German so-called “higher criticism” (Source, Form and Redaction criticism). This is so “yesterday” that most churches who believe this are dead or dying and certainly waning in influence. But apparently they are still around causing trouble for folks.
To be sure there are different types of literature in the Bible, allegory, apocalyptic and so on. Each in turn must be interpreted within the correct hermeneutical framework in order to get the right meaning. But this particular assessment violates the most basic principle of all interpretation. The more complex passages are interpreted in light of the simpler, and any deliverance you might concoct that runs contrary to the warp and woof of the balance of Scripture is obviously wrong and you need to go back to the beginning and try again.
Even if Jesus had intended to convey an additional (or even another) interpretation of what he said there, He didn’t rebuke them for having the items they counted in order to answer the master’s question. The disciples weren’t holding metaphors – they were holding fixed-blade swords. Jesus didn’t tell them to throw them away, even if our detractor is correct in his assessment of the passage (and I claim that he’s not). The disciples had swords before Jesus told them to find themselves a weapon, and they had they afterwards. The assessment fails at every turn.
Additionally, as I mentioned before, this assessment fails to consider the warp and woof of Scripture. I have never turned to this passage for demonstration of the right and even duty of self defense. As I’ve summarized before:
I am afraid there have been too many centuries of bad teaching endured by the church, but it makes sense to keep trying. As I’ve explained before, the simplest and most compelling case for self defense lies in the decalogue. Thou shall not murder means thou shall protect life.
God’s law requires [us] to be able to defend the children and helpless. “Relying on Matthew Henry, John Calvin and the Westminster standards, we’ve observed that all Biblical law forbids the contrary of what it enjoins, and enjoins the contrary of what it forbids.” I’ve tried to put this in the most visceral terms I can find.
God has laid the expectations at the feet of heads of families that they protect, provide for and defend their families and protect and defend their countries. Little ones cannot do so, and rely solely on those who bore them. God no more loves the willing neglect of their safety than He loves child abuse. He no more appreciates the willingness to ignore the sanctity of our own lives than He approves of the abuse of our own bodies and souls. God hasn’t called us to save the society by sacrificing our children or ourselves to robbers, home invaders, rapists or murderers. Self defense – and defense of the little ones – goes well beyond a right. It is a duty based on the idea that man is made in God’s image. It is His expectation that we do the utmost to preserve and defend ourselves when in danger, for it is He who is sovereign and who gives life, and He doesn’t expect us to be dismissive or cavalier about its loss.
This same sort of thinking can be applied on a larger scale to states and nations as so expertly done by professor Darrell Cole in Good Wars (First Things), relying on the theology of both Calvin and Aquinas. But this is a bridge too far for some Christians who are just now dealing with the notion that they might be in danger.
Now a word of advice for the pastor who proffered this laughable interpretation. It’s things like this that cause congregants to lose respect for the pulpit, and nothing screams the irrelevance of the sermon more than the Biblical impossibility of the pronouncements of the pastor (or in other words, the inconsistency of what he says with the balance of Scripture). It’s just best to leave your own political aberrations out of the pulpit and teach the Bible.